Archive For The “Words” Category
It’s hard to miss Lee Daniels.
Forget the pastel polos, the black rimmed glasses or the Don King-like hair – his personality alone demands attention. As he makes his way toward the table I’m sitting at, jotting down questions, I notice Lee Daniels doesn’t walk. He struts. I notice he doesn’t smile. He gleams.
He exudes the confidence that most first time directors usually hide behind doubt.
But, then again, Lee Daniels is different. And that may be the strongest quality he has. His confidence is the reason everyone within a fifteen foot radius knows Lee Daniels is, well, within a fifteen foot radius.
Although he’s making his directoral debut at the 2nd Anuual Bahamas International Film Festival with his film Shadowboxer, he is nowhere near being a rookie. He produced the Oscar-winning film Monster’s Ball, then followed that success with the critically acclaimed picture The Woodsman.
As Lee Daniels promotes Shadowboxer to whoever will listen, it’s apparent that the hair isn’t the only thing he and Don King have in common. King’s knack for promotion is also there.
“Shadowboxer is my soul,” he emphasizes. “I put my soul into whatever I do. Especially this movie. I put all I could into this.”
His soul wasn’t all he put into the movie. During production, Lee Daniels found himself putting his heart into the movie. Two months ago, the 46-year-old suffered a heart attack at the hands of exhaustion and hard work.
“Directing is… a tsunami,” Daniels laughs. “It’s very humbling. It’s easier to produce, but it’s so much more exciting to direct.”
Despite his success, Daniels’ greatest achievement has nothing to do with the cinema. He’s a proud father, something that makes all of his behind the camera success seem distant.
“That’s my greatest achievement,” Daniels said. “Being a dad.”
As a first time director at a sophomore film festival, Daniels sees positive outlooks for both him and the festival.
“I think the festival is going to grow and grow,” he said. “(Festival founder) Leslie Vanderpool has done a phenomenal job putting groups of people together. I think the future festivals will attract many people.”
As for him?
“I’ve got a couple movies left in me,” Daniels grins, the ultimate magician talking about future tricks up his sleeve. “I’m producing a new film called Tennesse and co-directing another with Lenny Kravitz.”
Despite a late start as a director, Daniels doesn’t take anything for granted. After his near-death experience, Daniels has developed a relationship with God and realizes how fortunate his is, not only to direct, but to still be alive.
“I’ve realized I’m very blessed,” Daniels said. “I’m trying to keep focus in prayer. I’m finding out what happiness is.”
WELCOME TO PARADISE is carved into the black metal door of an unusually clean bathroom stall I’d stopped in at the Nassau International Airport. I was wide awake and sweating, having worn a very chic (but obviously too heavy) pea coat while flying out of Detroit.
Accompanying me was my cinematographer friend, Tom, along for the ride to cover his first film festival, in the Bahamas no less, and like me, at the ripe age of 18. The only thing I could think of, as I ripped off a long swath of toilet paper to mop the sweat from my brow, were the words etched into the door…
WELCOME TO PARADISE.
And then I remembered to flush the toilet.
The Bahamas International Film Festival is in it’s sophomore attempt, following the success (and disorganization) of it’s debut. This year’s festival boasted the appearance of Spike Lee nearly five months in advance with the plan to honor him with a Career Achievement Award. Although Spike Lee didn’t make the festival (bad weather in the Big Apple, maybe?), the disappointment was tempered by a variety of films, non-stop events and promising filmmakers.
Here are the facts: Among the featured guests of the festival were Anthony Mackie, Rick Fox and Jeffery Wright, the latter of which was also unable to attend.
Among the events, hosted by Atlantis, were dessert receptions (with free buffets and bars), festive parties (with free buffets and champagne) and opening/closing night galas (with FOUR free buffets and TWO bars). Among the films were Zozo, Stander, Among Brothers, Antibodies, The Birthday Boy, The Big Question, Shadowboxer, Mrs. Henderson Presents, The Matador, Broken Flowers, 25th Hour and many, many more. Although the festival lacked Spike, it was able to get out of the dark thanks to the cinematic talents of bright (although, perhaps, yet unknown) filmmakers.
And there I sat, notepad in hand, watching the whole thing unfold.
The festival opened on December 8, with a meet-and-greet for the press and filmmakers. I had already received my press pass, the golden ticket that got me instant access all over the fun-factory that is known as Atlantis. Tom’s first question was, “Where’s Spike?” My first question was, “Where’s the rum?”
I sat outside on the patio at Plato’s, a tony lounge at Atlantis, slouched in my chair, scanning the crowd. Of the festival’s guests, I happened to be one of the few press members covering the event for the second time. Despite my knowledge of film (IMDB is my homepage) and my familiarity with this particular film festival (I toasted champagne with Anthony Mackie, opening night, last year), I’m still regarded as a young “kid” who seems to be looked upon more as a tourist than a journalist.
Regardless of this mistaken identity, the festival’s participants seem to cloak me in, I’ve been told I exude a somewhat confident aura about myself, which apparently entices filmmakers and fellow members of the press to talk to me.
I immediately met Josef Fares, the Swedish director responsible for over 50 short films and four features. He was screening his latest film Zozo. I also met Lee Daniels, the producer of Monster’s Ball and The Woodsman. Lee was showing his directorial debut, Shadowboxer, which stars Cuba Gooding, Jr.
I was able to meet the few members of the press that actually did attend the event, including one from New York and another from Chicago. The place was also buzzing with fans of filmmakers, particularly Spike Lee. These were fans who had traveled thousands of miles and spent thousands of dollars to see Mr. Lee in person.
Despite Mr. Lee’s absence, I was determined to get a story. So there I was, in the middle of everything. The youngest “reporter” at the festival, constantly taking notes and flashing my festival pass, which bore my name bold and strong, hanging over my chest like Superman’s logo.
After the meet-and-greet and hours of studying the festival promotional packet, memorizing names, plots and screening times, I found myself at the Versace Pre-Screening Cocktail Reception. Held at the Cloisters, a scenic garden resplendent with lush foliage, the event offered an opportunity for filmmakers and members of the press to get to know each other. I chatted it up with people while snacking on an array of sumptuous appetizers ornately arranged on buffet tables scattered throughout the garden. Beautiful statues and even more beautiful models, wearing the latest Versace fashions, posed under the green lights that cast their glow over the entire event.
There, I met a Post Page 6 writer from New York who was at the festival with his wife and their baby, whom he cradled in his arms while eating chicken kabobs. Deeper in the crowd Rick Fox, the authentically Bahamian L.A. Lakers star, stood tall in a designer suit, talking to members of the festival’s A-list.
I made my way over, introduced myself and told him I’m a fan of his, having seen him in the Whoopi Goldberg film, Eddie. Rick smiled genuinely and shook my hand.
I then saw Josef Fares again and raised a champagne glass in a toast. I discussed the Bush Administration with Bahamian Gus Smith, director of the short satire on the same topic titled Crude. Later, on the ride to the theatre I sat in front of Anthony Mackie, whom I had interviewed last year, and complimented him on his performance in the Spike Lee directed Showtime movie, Sucker Free City.
That evening, the festival shifted from the Cloisters to the Atlantis Theatre, a huge theatre located in the Beach Tower of the sprawling resort. Broken Flowers was the opening night film. Since I’ve seen it before (alone, after my girlfriend dumped me), Tom and I decided to hit the casino, where we lost our weight in quarters after a long stretch of up and down luck with the slot machines. We did end up getting plenty of free drinks from the friendly cocktail servers.
Following the screening, we headed to Atlantis’ Lagoon Bar and Grill which played host to the dessert receptions. People gathered in the large outdoor patio area flanked with with rows of tables filled with complimentary desserts and two open bars. Tom and I went back and forth between the party and Dragons, the nightclub located in the Atlantis Casino, with side trips to the quarter slot machines in between. We met a guy from Canada, named Matt, who we helped sneak into the dessert reception. He regarded us as celebrities, which made me feel better because I was being shunned repeatedly by the festival’s A-list.
The next day I woke up and enjoyed the complimentary breakfast in the filmmakers lounge, devouring a cinnamon roll, a bagel and a cup of strong coffee.
Tom and I then caught the 12:30pm showing of Josef Fares’ film, Zozo. The film, which follows the journey of a young boy from Lebanon to Sweden, was very well received.
That evening, Caves Village, out on West Bay Street, hosted a Bahamian Themed Night which erupted into a Junkanoo celebration. Dancers and musicians marched through the large open spaces, exciting the crowd who was enjoying food from Ristorante Villaggio and complimentary Heinekens being dispensed by two gorgeous Heineken Girls wearing Santa hats. Rick Fox bobbed his head to the music while everyone else only seemed interested in having their picture taken with him. Anthony Mackie perused the tables featuring hand-made Bahamian arts and crafts.
While enjoying a cigarette in solitude (Tom was chatting with Marq Morrison – director of Into the Air – about the Heineken girls), I introduced myself to Bima Stagg, a stout man with a large beard and shaggy hair. He invited me to a screening of the film he wrote, Stander, which was due to screen at the Galleria, a theatre across town, the next morning at 10:00am. He addressed me as the “one from Detroit” before learning my name and said he would be pleased to see me at the screening, if I could wake up that early. Not knowing if I should be offended or flattered, I accepted and shook his hand.
Waking the next morning at 9, I quietly got dressed as Tom was mumbling something about phone calls in his sleep. I loaded up on cinnamon rolls and coffee (again) before climbing aboard the empty shuttle headed to the Galleria Cinema.
I arrived at the theatre fifteen minutes early, the timing suggested on the back of my press pass. I sat in the nearly empty theatre for an hour before the film started. Bima Stagg acknowledged me and sat in the back.
One hundred and sixteen minutes later I become enlightened. In my mind, Stander was the best film shown at the festival (it went on to win the Audience’s Award). I was thoroughly moved by the performance of Thomas Jane and the directing of Bronwen Hughes.
Since the shuttle back to Atlantis was late and would have further delayed my schedule (I had an interview with Lee Daniels scheduled to start in 30 minutes), I eagerly (maybe too eagerly?) accepted a ride back to the resort offered to me by Bima Stagg. Bima was driving in a private car with Anthony Mackie riding shotgun. I rode along, chatting with Bima about Stander and Hollywood, as I relished the opportunity to get up close with two of the featured guests at the festival.
Upon my arrival at Atlantis, I barely had time to take a shower and prepare for my interview with Lee Daniels. I quickly jotted down a few notes and questions while walking to the filmmaker’s lounge. Tom, carrying his sophisticated GL2 video camera, followed hurriedly behind, smoking a cigarette.
Lee Daniels is the 46-year-old debut director of Shadowboxer, one of five Special Screenings at this year’s festival. Our interview was brief but insightful as the animated director slapped his own face while debating which side of his personality he wanted to express more (his black side or his “queen” side). He also had us laughing when he compared his thick, slicked back hair to that of actor/rapper Andre “3000” Benjamin.
After our interview, I lounged around Atlantis’ Sports Center, where I enjoyed an apple and worked on movie reviews. This was actually my back-up plan after I refused to spend $40 to use a treadmill. I had about an hour to kill before the Spike Lee Tribute Ceremony at 8 o’clock. I thought about the Oscar season that’s quickly approaching, and hurriedly wrote down my picks. Brokeback Mountain, King Kong and Syriana top my list. I also thought about this film festival and the films that may have the potential to be great: Stander, Zozo, Shadowboxer. I also thought about how this festival, which seemed to snub the local media, was actually being snubbed by the major media in return.
I was dwelling on the irony of all this, identifying the bullet that the festival is shooting itself in the foot with, when a bikini-clad beauty (maybe a Versace model from the Cloisters?) pulled up a lounge chair a few feet from me. She noticed my press pass and smiled. I noticed her blue eyes and introduced myself.
Later, I found myself sitting in the second row of the Atlantis Theatre, directly behind Anthony Mackie and Rick Fox, playing with my digital camera and trying to spark small talk with the brunette bombshell to my left. I introduced myself to a couple from Illinois who traveled down to the Bahamas solely to see Spike Lee. Shortly after we received the news that Mr. Lee wasn’t able to make it to the festival, a loud groan filled the theatre and more than a few seats emptied. I just sat back and relaxed as festival founder Leslie Vanderpool introduced Karin Durbin, a film critic and journalist. The audience watched a highlight reel of Spike Lee’s work, including clips from Do The Right Thing, Get on the Bus!, 25th Hour, Jungle Fever and He Got Game, which starred Rick Fox.
After the long, well edited sampling of Lee’s work, members of the festival shared their experiences on working with Spike Lee. Anthony Mackie reflected on his nude scene in She Hate Me. Rick Fox talked about his audition for He Got Game. The crowd, disappointed and possibly aggravated at Mr. Lee’s no-show, watched in boredom. When the question and answer segment started, only one woman had a question, with most people just waiting for the session to end. As soon as the event was over, the theatre quickly emptied, only slightly refilling for the screening of Mrs. Henderson Presents.
Because I had stayed to watch a tribute to Spike Lee without Spike Lee, I missed the screening of Shadowboxer, despite promising Lee Daniels I’d be there.
Disappointed and more than a little irritated, I went to the casino and proceeded to lose a few more bucks. Tom, on the other hand, got hot and won $25. We hung out at Dragons, our press passes dangling around our necks while dancing to ‘okay’ music and making friends with ease. We skipped the Late Night Gathering at the Hard Rock Cafe which I quickly heard was a waste of time. I got to sleep fairly early and prepared myself for the final day of the Second Annual Bahamas International Film Festival.
Sunday, December 11: I had promised John Schwert, the co-writer and director of Among Brothers, that I’d check out the film and interview him and the principle cast afterwards. Although the film failed to wow me, I enjoyed the story and respected the dedication by Schwert. I sat for an interview with him, Matt Mercer and Corey Cicci, the top two billed actors. They thanked me profusely and we stuck around the theatre, talking about nothing in particular (North Carolina basketball, Adobe editing software, people who are jerks). We all caught a shuttle back to Atlantis, where I ran into festival founder Leslie Vanderpool, whose sudden interest must have had something to do with Tom’s footage of Lee Daniels and the festival’s events. I smiled and nodded, never looking up from the book I was reading (American Psycho).
Upon our return to Atlantis I headed over to the filmmakers lounge and ended up sitting around with Eddie Mensore, the writer/director of arguably the best short film at the festival, The Birthday Boy. We sipped Rum Punch, before switching to Heinekens, when Josef Fares and Fransesco Cabras (director; The Big Question) join us. We sat there for a few hours, throwing back drinks and talking about films – from Paul Thomas Anderson to the music of Vincent Gallo – we all seemed to have the same taste. Tom bought a carton of cigarettes for $25 after having paid $6 a pack since we arrived. After toasting our Heinekens and simultaneously cheering “To next year!” our large group walked from the Royal Towers to the Beach Towers and into the Atlantis Theatre.
There, I sat next to Josef Fares and turned Tom’s GL2 on. Tom was outside smoking a cigarette, so I was manning the camera. After a speech by Leslie Vanderpool, the first award was presented: the Spirit of Freedom Award for a Narrative Film. Zozo, Josef Fares’ film, won and I jerked the camera directly into Josef’s face as he smiled and walked past the row of chairs on his way up to the stage. He took a spill while walking up the stairs to accept the award (blaming it on his shoes and the beer). Other winners included Stander (Audience Award), Antibodies (New Visions Award) and La Sierra (Spirit of Freedom Documentary Award).
After the short award ceremony, the film festival closed with The Matador, a great film starring Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear. It was the perfect film to close the festival with; well structured, well acted, sharply directed filmmaking that received uproarious applause.
The festival’s guests were then transported to the Beach Tower’s Ballroom alongside another Junkanoo parade, which filled the hallways of Atlantis with the pounding rhythm of cow-skin drums and ear splitting horns. I toasted champagne with the festival’s best one last time, smiling and laughing, enjoying our final moments together at this year’s festival.
As I watched the palm trees and patches of pavement roll past my small window on my flight out of the Bahamas I was left with pleasant memories of an emerging film festival. Although some of the organizer’s tactics and treatment of the media seemed questionable, the merging of paradise and cinema was the perfect escape from the harsh realities of a vicious Michigan winter. I gazed out the window as the palm trees disappeared beneath the clouds, knowing that when I opened my eyes again, all I’d see is snow covered cars adorned with parking tickets (it’s Detroit, there’s nowhere to park legally).
The Second Annual Bahamas International Film Festival, like all events everywhere, had its ups and downs. Late shuttles and delayed screenings were the biggest complaint, following the disappointing absence of Spike Lee. But the biggest problem this film festival may have had, was the lack of press coverage they received from the international media. Thank God for the local media (like the one I work for) or there’d have been basically no coverage of the festival at all.
Watching the snow fall here in Detroit, all I have now are fond memories of my three days in paradise, where despite being routinely dismissed by the festival PR coordinator, the youngest members of the press core turned out to be among the only ones who brought much needed international attention to the fledgling festival.
One day, Anthony Mackie will be the one of the greatest actors in Hollywood.
He’ll be swarmed by agents, mobbed by fans and have enough Oscar statues to play chess with. His name will be top billing in box office hits that will attract half the world into the theatre.
But, right now, he’s just an optimistic actor from New Orleans, sitting next to me, gulping a Jack and Coke at the Bahamas International Film Festival.
“In five years I hope I’m blown up,” Mackie laughs, stirring his drink. ”I just want to continue to do diverse and interesting roles. Continue to do one play a year, continue to do three films a year.”
Mackie is evolving into a star, using his on-screen presence to turn ordinary films into extraordinary ones. In his film debut, the smash-hit 8 Mile, Mackie took the role of Eminem’s cross-town rival Papa Doc and made you absolutely hate him. In his two latest films, Spike Lee’s She Hate Me and Rodney Evans’ Brother to Brother, Mackie hasn’t just shown that he can really act, but that he’s one of the most versatile young actors in Hollywood.
“I’m on my way to that,” Mackie tells me, concerning his flexibility as an actor. “Well, like a few more projects and I might get up there. But, now, I wish.”
In Brother to Brother, Mackie plays Terry, a gay teenager who befriends an older black writer at a homeless shelter. The film has received critical acclaim for both the picture itself and Mackie’s too-good-to-be-true performance.
“I did a lot of research for Brother to Brother,” Mackie explains. “Like when (Marlon) Brando did Streetcar, he used to stand outside of strips clubs and watch men come in and out. When I read that, it tripped me out. So when I was doing this film, a friend of mine showed me this gay club and I used to stand outside and watch the men come in and out. I would watch their movements and everything like that. I just applied that to my work and didn’t judge it.”
Mackie’s other latest feature is Spike Lee’s She Hate Me, a politically driven film that deals with everything from whistleblowers to same-sex parenting. In the film, Mackie somehow finds himself in the middle of a moral dilemma as his successful life turns into a whirlwind of confusion. Playing a recently fired, desperate young executive who impregnates women for $10,000 each in one film, and a homeless gay teenager in the other, Mackie discovered similarities between directors Spike Lee and Rodney Evans, which helped him develop each character.
“Well it’s interesting, they just have similar styles of work,” Mackie said, leaning forward. “Rodney had a very specific vision about this film. It was basically him setting the performance on the actors. Where as with Spike, he casts people because of their ability and he works with that to form the character. So, Spike’s more of an actor’s director, where as Rodney’s really a director’s director.”
Mackie’s film resume includes cameos in The Manchurian Candidate, with Denzel Washington, and upcoming films such as Million Dollar Baby, with Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman, plus The Man with Samuel L. Jackson. He has worked with some of the best actors in the world, enhancing his own technique by observing the work of others.
“I would just hone in on my own working process by watching their process,” he tells me. ”And how to treat people.”
I ask him to explain that.
“When Sam (Jackson) got on the set everybody knew it because he knew everybody’s name. He made sure everybody was upbeat and cool. He was cracking jokes on everybody, cracking jokes with everybody. Everybody was cracking jokes on him. They really taught me, when you get to that level, how to treat people to make them want to come to work.”
For now, Anthony Mackie is cast into roles that either save or make the films, something that helps establish himself as one of the best young actors of Hollywood’s new generation.
When asked how he gets those roles, how he has met these people, he sums up his acting career in three words.
“I’ve been lucky.”
Originally Written For BahamasB2B.com
Written & Directed by Josef Fares
Cinematography by Aril Wretblad
Starring Imad Creidi, Antoinette Turk, Elias Gergi
Josef Fares is the quintessential foreign director. He wears designer tees and faded jeans, has slicked back hair and a neat five o’clock shadow. He crosses his legs when he talks and stuffs concentrated nicotine patches (available only in Sweden) under his lip and on his gums. His latest film, Zozo, is a personal story of Fares, who was, like the main character, born in Lebanon before relocating to Sweden. Zozo is incredibly emotional and surprisingly uplifting, a tale of survival of the fittest with a kid barely old enough to ride a bike.
Zozo is the story of a young Lebanese boy who dreams of escaping to Sweden, away from the war torn country he calls home, longing to meet his grandparents across the border. Zozo is a very complex story with many ideas that could branch off into stories themselves.
One of these stories, maybe the event that fuels the entire film, is the tragic death of his loving mother, goodhearted father and teenage sister after a bomb hits their small house. Zozo and his brother escape as bombs tear apart the sidewalk and streets they traverse, a visually stunning scene, the sound of dropping bombs filling the increasingly silent theatre.
Shortly after the fleeing from his house, after seeing his mother’s leg nearly 10 feet from her body, Zozo hides in a garbage dumpster, while his brother goes for help. His brother is gunned done instantly, leaving Zozo alone with his only friend, a bright yellow chick he met earlier while saying goodbye to his best friends.
Zozo, hungry and alone, tries to use sympathy to retrieve a piece of bread. When his pathetic attempt fails, Zozo meets Rita, who buys the piece of bread and scornfully scolds the bread vendor, using her father’s position as head of the laundry mat to garner respect.
Together, Rita and Zozo plan to escape to Sweden. Their plans are spoiled when their cab across the border is stopped and searched. Rita’s abusive father is called and she is whisked away quick, never to be seen again by the cupid struck Zozo.
In Sweden, Zozo meets his grandparents and begins another chapter of his life.
The second part of the film is very ambiguous and slightly disappointing. Although I not only relate to Zozo as an adolescent looking for acceptance, but I also sympathize the war he’s already fighting, the war to start a new family.
Zozo’s grandfather is a no-nonsense old man with false teeth and a mean left hook. Zozo is instantly picked on at school, which leads to a flurry of punches and kicks from three older kids who leave Zozo’s face bloodied and bruised. Zozo’s grandfather repeatedly preaches self-defense, an act that the passive Zozo is reluctant to attempt.
Zozo quickly befriends half of his class after buying (eventually stealing) pencils and erasers from a local store. He is ratted out by his class, which leads to a sudden outburst of anger from Zozo, who throws his desk against the classroom wall. Once again, alone and confused, Zozo is confronted by the quiet and equally passive Leo, a young classmate who looks surprisingly like a young Mick Jagger.
Together, Zozo and Leo create a relationship based on sympathy for one another, a lasting friendship they both benefit from.
In order to preserve the turning points of the film, I’ll leave you with a few facts about Zozo and the effect it had at the 2nd Annual Bahamas International Film:
– Zozo won the Spirit of Freedom Award for Best Narrative Film.
– The film came close to winning the audience award after receiving a nearly unanimous standing ovation after the screening.
– Zozo was regarded as one of the strongest films at the festival.
Zozo is a very good film by a very talented director. The film is told in two sections, two very good sections, that can move the audience deeply or leave it begging for a little more. Josef Fares obviously knows how to make films, good films, and may soon have a larger impact on the direction and future of foreign filmmakers.
The most frightening image of The Untold Story of Emmett Till isn’t young Emmett’s mutilated face as he lies in his coffin for the whole world to see. It isn’t Mamie Till Mobley’s reactions at the funeral, being held up by two men as she nearly faints while looking at her son’s lifeless corpse.
The most frightening image of the film is when the murderers, J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, smile in the courtroom as they get acquitted of kidnapping and murdering the 14-year-old boy who allegedly whistled at a white woman.
But, thanks to a relentless effort by the film’s director, Keith Beauchamp, the decision in that courtroom won’t stand much longer.
Beauchamp has dedicated nine years of his life to The Untold Story of Emmett Till, which not only received a standing ovation at its screening at the Bahamas International Film Festival, but has reopened the murder case of the 1955 killing of young Emmett Till.
“It was more than just a film,” Beauchamp said during our interview at the Atlantis Coral Towers. “This became a personal journey for myself.”
That personal journey started at the age of 10, when Beauchamp first learned of Emmett Till’s story. Having grown up in racially tense Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Beauchamp experienced racism as a high school senior, when he was beaten by an off-duty police officer for dancing with a white girl at prom.
“I was hands-on with this project because I lived this project,” Beauchamp told me expressively. “This is something that I was willing to die for.”
Having not worked a 9-to-5 in over seven years, Beauchamp has devoted a majority of his adult life working on The Untold Story, becoming sort of a second son to Emmett’s mother, the late Mamie Till Mobley.
“We became very close,” Beauchamp said. “Just knowing her, just speaking with her and just listening to her knowledge and her wisdom, that is what really kept me going.”
Mamie Till Mobley, who passed away last year, had fought for the reopening of the case for 47 years, trying to avenge her son’s brutal murder. That vengeance came when Beauchamp made his documentary, which opened the eyes of the justice system while dropping the jaws of viewers. I ask Keith if he, too, still gets chills when he watches the film.
“Oh yeah, man,” he says shaking his head emphatically. “It’s very unfortunate that Mrs. Mobley passed away, it’s very hurtful for me to see the footage of her.
Everything she had said to me before, I now know what she’s been trying to teach me.
I asked him what he learned.
The film that Beauchamp has persevered in is a 75-minute documentary that follows the events that happen before, during and after the abduction and murder of Emmett Louis Till, a 14-year-old Chicago native who traveled to Mississippi to visit his uncle. The film, which has no narration or onscreen appearances for Beauchamp, uses the witnesses that were with Till when he was abducted, the reporters who covered the case and, of course, the woman who lost her son.
“I’ve never considered this film to be my film,” Beauchamp said tapping his chest. “I always considered this their film; the witnesses, Mrs. Mobley’s film. I’m just the mouth piece.”
Since starting this documentary, Beauchamp has discovered evidence that proves even the most knowledgeable history books wrong. Beauchamp learned that there were over 14 people involved in the murder, much more than the historian’s story, which includes only two. Beauchamp has found witnesses who didn’t want to be found and possible suspects that desperately tried to clear their name. But, the most significant thing Beauchamp has done was force the re-opening of the nearly 50-year-old case and lit a match underneath the seat of America’s top politicians.
“I made this film to raise the American…” Beauchamp stops and thinks. “Not just the American consciousness, but to raise the conscience of all people about the contributions that were given by African-Americans.”
Now, Beauchamp is getting rewarded for his role in, what he calls, the hip-hop generation’s civil rights movement. He has been talking to plenty of producers and film distributors who are interested in making a feature-length film on his life and his involvement with the Emmett Till project.
“There are so many people we’ve been discussing to play me,” Beauchamp explained. “It was said that Will Smith had interest, same with Jamie Foxx, but I don’t see those people playing me.”
I laugh and say, yes, I could see Will Smith.
“Will Smith?” He too, begins to laugh. “A lot of people said that actually. I don’t know man, it’s up in the air.”
Although Beauchamp’s film has many frightening and horrifying images, it is laced with beauty that will keep a lasting impression on me and every other viewer. The most beautiful image in the film is watching Mamie Till Mobley sit on her couch, next to a baby picture of Emmett, still able to smile her gorgeous smile.
And, after watching all that Keith Beauchamp has done for her son, you know she is smiling down on him now.
Written by George Nolfi
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Cinematography by Steven Soderbergh (as Peter Andrews)
Starring Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, George Clooney
Steven Soderbergh can make great movies. Check his resume, which goes from the Cannes-winning sex, lies and videotape, to the Oscar-winning Traffic, Soderbergh has the ability to put the audience into something more than a movie, something more than a 2-hour film that can leave the audience bored and depleted.
With his newest film, Ocean’s 12, Soderbergh has relied too much on the success of the original, Ocean’s 11. Unlike its sequel, Ocean’s 11 told a story, which made sense at the end and left the audience feeling proud of themselves that they figured out how the robbery was pulled off. In Ocean’s 12, there was no story, there was no plot.
Despite the lack of formulation that seemed to drag the film on for more than it’s apparent 2-hour running time, the dialogue in the film was masterful, picking up the quirky one-liners that made Ocean’s 11 an oft-quoted movie. All the acting is superb with basically the entire cast from the original movie returning, plus the addition of Catherine Zeta-Jones as a blood-thirsty detective who has the hots for Brad Pitt’s hilarious character Rusty Ryan.
The film, which is set three years after the gang pulled off the greatest casino robbery in Las Vegas history, shows an upset Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) personally addressing each member of the original crew and demanding his money back with interest, which adds up to roughly $97 million. Being “too hot” to work anywhere in America, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his team travel to Europe to pull off three separate heists with not only Benedict on their tails, but Europol’s top agent Isabelle Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and a thief known only as Nightfox close on their tails.
Ocean’s 12 will more than likely be a box office success thanks to its twelve big name superstars and a few cameo appearances from their friends. The script is very funny and the directing, as any other Soderbergh film would be, is superb. But, a film can’t run without legs and that seems to be the only thing that Ocean’s 12 is lacking.
Written & Directed by Paul Haggis
Story by Paul Haggis & mark Boal
Cinematography by Roger Deakins
Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Jonathan Tucker
The best way to teach filmmakers how to make films is by giving them examples of how to master the craft, how to perfect every aspect of the filmmaking process. I find myself carrying a laptop to nearly every screening to take down scrupulous notes in order to learn the structure of film by, well, watching films.
Aside from Woody Allen’s 2005 sleeper hit Match Point and the Coen Brother’s No Country for Old Men, very few movies are able to convey a message and captivate an audience using the basic principles of filmmaking: character, plot and conflict.
But, in Paul Haggis’s emotional powerhouse, In The Valley of Elah, the 2-time Academy-Award winner proves that he’s becoming an important writer-slash-director in Hollywood without relying on lucrative special effects or raunchy sex scenes. In fact, “Valley” has no overt sensuality, no unnecessary profanity, no unexplained plot twists; it is filmmaking in the most minimal form.
Tommy Lee Jones gives an Oscar caliber performance as Hank Deerfield, a no nonsense retired military policeman searching for his youngest son, Mike (Jonathan Tucker), who has been listed as AWOL following his deployment from Iraq.
As the search for his son becomes more rigorous and less hopeful, Hank finds himself clashing with two forms of the law: the clueless local police and the headstrong military brass. With the help of a determined detective, Emily Sanders (played painstakingly by Charlize Theron), Hank delves into an investigation that he may not want to solve, asking questions he may not want answered, discovering that learning the truth is sometimes easier than facing it.
In The Valley of Elah also boasts noteworthy performances by Susan Sarandon, James Franco, Jason Patric, Josh Brolin, Wes Chatham and Jake McLaughlin; all of whom bring life and dimension to generally listless characters. The entire cast of “Valley” performs as if they all have secrets, refusing to give other characters the satisfaction of knowing what’s on their mind.
Winner of this year’s Spirit of Freedom: Dramatic Award at the 4th Annual Bahamas International Film Festival, In The Valley of Elah is easily one of the top films of 2007 and is sure to garner even more gold come Oscar time.
It’s a shame that the screening for this film was so poorly attended at the festival; up-and-coming filmmakers could have learned a thing or two from Haggis and his brilliance.
Maybe next time I won’t be the only person taking notes.
I first saw Boogie Nights in 2000, when I was a 13-year-old punk, three years after it had originally been released in theaters. At the time, the film was appealing to me for very obvious reasons (the titties, cocaine, just to name a few), but as I got older, and I continued to watch Boogie Nights, studying it, I began to develop an appreciation for not only the boldness of the film, but the mastery of director Paul Thomas Anderson.
This article from A.V. Club, written by Mike D’Angelo in July 2009, is one of the best articles I’ve ever read about Boogie Nights and PT Anderson’s risk-taking style of directing. The article discusses one of my favorite sequences in the film – Long Way Down (One Last Thing) – the chaotic conclusion of the film where Dirk Diggler officially hits rock-bottom.
Anderson cuts to a close-up of Dirk sitting quietly on the couch just as “Jessie’s Girl” begins its second verse, and proceeds to hold that close-up for 50 agonizing seconds—an eternity of screen time, given that nothing is happening.
It’s a moment of pure mystery, an inexplicable oasis amid off-the-wall chaos, and while I still find most of Boogie Nights too baldly derivative to be truly great, it was in those 50 seconds, and in this scene generally, that I first recognized the presence of a potential master.
In my opinion, that “moment of pure mystery” is cinematic gold, a telling shot, holding on Mark Wahlberg as he stares menacingly at nothing, a crooked smile etched across his drug-addled face. The soundtrack complements the shot choice, peppered with the occasional explosion from Cosmo, Rahad Jackson’s (Alfred Molina) Chinese counterpart.
The entire sequence capped off a remarkable debut film by one of the most talented filmmakers in Hollywood. And as long as PT Anderson continues making movies, we’ll all be watching them, taking notes, learning something new each time.
Written & Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Cinematography by Robert Richardson
Starring Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Laurent
There’s something utterly sublime about Quentin Tarantino.
He’s an icon, a legend, a cinematic guru – the definitive writer-director that deftly defines his generation while aggressively inspiring the one that follows. He leaves movie-goers perplexed – confused – scratching their heads as if they paid admission to see a question mark.
Don’t believe me? Go see it.
But don’t bring your kids. Or your parents. Or your grandparents. Or anyone squeamish when it comes to blood, scalping, skin-branding with a blade or sitting for almost three hours. This movie is brutal.
Inglorious Basterds is Tarantino’s latest visual symphony – his magnum opus – an elaborately-fictional fantasy that makes Kill Bill look like a late night re-run of La Femme Nakita. Brad Pitt is at his smoldering best as Aldo “The Apache” Raine, a straight-to-the-point Tennessee lieutenant hell-bent on killing and collecting the scalps of Nazi soldiers. “I’m in the killin’ Notzi bin’iss,” Pitt delivers in a Slingblade-like Southern drawl. “And bin’iss is-a boomin’.”
Joining him in his recession-proof crusade is his crew of “Basterds”- a small band of wildly savage Jewish-American soldiers. Like Donny Donowitz (Eli Roth), better known as “The Bear Jew”: a scowling slab of Hebrew muscle that uses Nazi skulls as tee-balls. Or Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger): a former German soldier that went postal on his commanding officers.
To juxtapose the story of the Basterds, Tarantino weaves together an emotional subplot surrounding Shosanna Dryfus (Melanie Laurent), a Jewish refugee that survives the heinous massacre of her family. Her assumed life is turned upside down when the cinema she operates is ordered to play host to Hitler and his regime – including Col. Hanz Landa (Cristoph Waltz), the man who murdered her family – for the premiere of a Nazi propaganda film
As a director, Quentin Tarantino reminds me of a modern-day Orson Welles -a creative mad man – displaying fundamentally-sound film techniques while refusing to shy away from the story, the suspense, the discomfort and the violence that makes everyone in the audience cringe in their seat, refusing to look away.
As a writer, Tarantino’s script is a pitch-perfect, big-budget, summer-blockbuster that reads like a art-house/comic book film. He has an innate ability of introducing characters in such an exciting way that you almost forget about the storyline. So if you’re expecting to see flat characters and overtly revealing dialogue and happy endings, then don’t see this movie.
You’ll criticize the lengthy stretches of dialogue and the not-so-factual storyline. You look for answers and explanations and all you’ll find is more questions and a headache.
Had Quentin Tarantino been a foreign director – or had he made films during Hollywood’s Golden Era – he’d be revered as a pioneer, a innovative genius, America’s version of Federico Fellini. With his newest film, Tarantino proves to be the most entertaining writer-director of his time, the best Return-on-Investment filmmaker money can buy.
And Inglorious Basterds is worth every single penny.
Frank E. Flowers must love nights like this.
Nights where he shares his film to the world. Nights where he shakes hands and listens to how amazed people are when they learn he is only 26-years-old. Nights where he gets to stay at a place like Peter Nygard’s extravagant beach house, which has welcomed great film icons such as Robert De Niro and Sean Connery.
Flowers had to know this was his night, even as the Bahamian skies turned gray and lighting forked over the ocean in the distance. He had to comprehend the metaphor, when minutes before the thunderstorm that delayed the screening of his film ‘Haven’ hit, everything became silent. This was his calm before the storm.
And Frank E. Flowers has to be enjoying every minute of it.
Flowers first started to create a buzz in 2003 when his award-winning short film, Swallow, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. He made the leap to feature films in one try, following up Swallow with his directorial debut in Haven. He immediately noticed the transition from a 25-minute short, with relatively unknown actors, to a 100-minute feature with the likes of Orlando Bloom, Bill Paxton and Anthony Mackie.
“With short films you answer to yourself. You can be narcissistic,” Flowers said. “But, with features you bring in the professionals. Then you’re answering to producers and actors.”
Flowers’ film talents started to bloom when he attended the University of Southern California and majored in film. He wasn’t sure he could make a living at it, so he safely minored in business. Fast-forward a few years and he is kicking off a fundraiser for the second annual Bahamas International Film Festival. With his first feature film, he is now being looked at as one of the rising stars of the Caribbean film movement.
“The Bahamas is at a very exciting forefront for film making,” Flowers said. “Potential is a huge deal for our (Caribbean) culture.”
Culture is something to which Flowers has always stayed loyal. His Cayman Island roots are apparent in ‘Haven’. The film opens up on the island with the clear water splashing up onto a powdery white sand beach. Flowers has helped put the Cayman Islands on the map artistically and has been an intricate part in bringing a surge of cinematic creativity to the Caribbean while launching their newly discovered identity in film. Flowers believes the future is bright for Caribbean filmmakers.
“We can stir up the pot artistically,” Flowers said. “And in film, you’re able to look into yourself, your truth, your culture and your experiences. There is so much going on when people watch movies. You can feel it in the atmosphere.”
‘Haven’ is already being compared to other non-linear and gritty movies such as Pulp Fiction and Amores Perros. Haven, which was both written and directed by Flowers, features an extremely talented cast to compliment an extremely talented director. The shots of Flowers’ home, the Cayman Islands, are beautiful.
Both the supporting and leading acting roles are superbly done with few flaws. Orlando Bloom has transformed from a mere heartthrob to a very notable and gifted actor. Zoë Saldana, who is quickly rising to fame with her talent as much as her beauty, is both brilliant and heartbreaking, playing Bloom’s rich love interest. Their onscreen chemistry is remarkable and you can give just as much credit to Flowers’ directing as you can to the actors.
If Flowers can bring the same energy and diversity that he brought to Haven to his sophomore film The Trespasser, then we are watching Frank E. Flowers blossom into an Botanical-sized garden of talent. He will no longer be enjoying the quiet before his storm of fame and success.
Soon enough, he’ll be the eye of the storm.